Most believed that Harbor Town was a gamble. In the 1980s, few people could see themselves making their home in downtown Memphis. It would be fine to work downtown, but better to drive east at night to a home in the suburbs. Henry Turley wanted something different, something like the neighborhood he remembered from childhood – and he wanted it close to downtown. His would be a neighborhood that emphasized the human, not the automobile. His would be a neighborhood that encouraged interaction between folks on front porches and folks on the sidewalks. His would be a neighborhood of small lot sizes, neighborliness, and intimacy. It would not be a neighborhood of garage doors, asphalt, and isolation.
Back then, it was not so easy for others to imagine this neighborhood, let alone such a neighborhood in downtown Memphis. This did not deter Henry. He purchased 132 acres on a sandbar known as Mud Island. There, along the banks of the Mississippi, Henry pursued his vision. Collaborating with RTKL of Baltimore, Looney Ricks Kiss of Memphis, and Tony Bologna, they made a simple, instructive picture book that plainly told “do this, don’t do this” – development guidelines that would grow Harbor Town into the kind of community now known as New Urbanist. Today, Harbor Town is dense and walkable, offering traditional row houses, contemporary homes, apartments, a neighborhood grocery store, restaurants, a Montessori school, a bilingual daycare, a marina, an upscale inn, and a health clinic. The trees are mature, the cars are tucked into alleys behind houses, the river beckons, and the downtown core is only a stone’s throw away.